It was nearly a year ago that I picked up The Juilliard Journal for the first time as I waited impatiently for an elevator. Having been at the School for just a little over two months, I was surprised to see a four-page feature devoted exclusively to Coming Out Month. Thrilled by what I was reading, and the openness of the campus that it implied, I was curious as to what other events had been planned for the remainder of the month. After speaking with Sabrina Tanbara, the director of student affairs; Jim Houghton, director of the Drama Division; and Alison Scott-Williams, the associate vice president for diversity and campus life, I learned that not a single event celebrating Coming Out Month had been scheduled during October, nor had there ever been a sanctioned organization representing the Juilliard G.L.B.T. community.
It seemed to me that Juilliard has a fairly large number of gay students; yet as far as I could tell, no real sense of gay community had ever developed at the School. Perhaps this resulted from a misconception that because we attend a college with such a prevalent gay population, the campus is open and free from intolerance. However, as much as we are students entering into the arts world, we are entering into a professional world that seems to encourage us to refrain from speaking openly about sexuality. How does that pressure manifest itself within the walls of this professional training program, I wondered.
I met once more with Ms. Scott-Williams and Ms. Tanbara to propose the creation of a Juilliard Gay-Straight Alliance, not as a means to address an issue, but to address a need. I wanted to be part of an organization that celebrated its G.L.B.T. members without feeling as if I was in a “pride” event, and wanted to feel safe enough to talk personally without feeling like I was at a “support group.” Though both pride events and support groups fulfill important roles, I wanted something more substantive. I needed to know that there was not only a large community of G.L.B.T. students, but also one committed to cultivating true openness at Juilliard. So with the backing of our advisor, Emily Regas in the Alumni Relations Office; the Office of Student Affairs; and a small group of students, the first Juilliard Gay-Straight Alliance was chartered.
As a bit of background, in 1998, 40 Gay-Straight Alliances were formed in San Francisco to empower youth to fight homophobia and transphobia in schools. The idea quickly spread and, according to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, by 2006 there were more than 3,000 Gay-Straight Alliances across the country.
So what is the significance of a G.S.A. within what is assumed to be such a liberal and accepting environment? This organization creates a safe environment for students to voice personal concerns regarding their own sexual identity and provides an opportunity for artists from all divisions, of any race, religion, or sexual orientation, to foster meaningful conversation regarding G.L.B.T. issues. Each meeting is structured to encourage open and honest dialogue around specific G.L.B.T. issues. This year, we plan to invite artists, doctors, lawyers, psychologists, and other leaders in their fields to participate in panel discussions centering on questions that are often only spoken about vaguely. What rights are you or your G.L.B.T. friends and family denied? What do religious doctrines actually say about homosexuality? What are the potential issues regarding gay adoption or surrogacy? Why can’t gay men donate blood? (That one still has me confused.) How can you take action? The Juilliard Gay-Straight Alliance acts as both a liaison between the campus G.L.B.T. community and Juilliard as an educational institution and as a forum to empower Juilliard students through honest conversation.
An environment thriving with so many intelligent and open-minded artists could not be a more fertile foundation for such an alliance. If we are leaders in the arts, and the arts have forever been at the forefront of social progress, than we have a responsibility to take part in this social dialogue as well.
The Juilliard schedule can be a beast unto itself; however, please keep an eye out for information regarding the Juilliard Gay-Straight Alliance and join us at our upcoming meetings! Help make this new Juilliard organization an integral component of the School.